Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 5/17/12
HOUSTON Bud Norris is averse to the big picture. His performance on Wednesday night, in conjunction with his two prior starts this month, made it easy to ponder what may come next. Without provocation Norris broached the subject of maturation and, given his talent and recent results, it was difficult to ignore the confluence of it all. Yet Norris didn't want to discuss his supposedly figuring things out or even the presumption that nights like these only confirm what many believe are steps Norris is taking toward assuming the role of staff ace. He prefers to get lost in the process, the regimen of improving start by start while letting the chips fall wherever they are destined to end up. "It's a process, and it never ends," Norris said after pitching the Astros to an 8-3 victory over the Brewers at Minute Maid Park. "There's no specific answer or something that's going to say, There it is.' You really have to learn and keep making adjustments and strides, and that's part of the maturity process and growing up and being a veteran player and learning. "I've only got two and a half (seasons) in but I'm trying to get better each and every day. I know where I want to be and I don't know how long my career is going to last, but I'm going to enjoy the moment and keep pitching and working." Oftentimes it's easy to forget that Norris, 27, made his Astros debut on July 29, 2009. So many faces have changed in their clubhouse and Norris has become such a rotation fixture that his three seasons seem like an eternity. But the process to which Norris refers brings clarity to his development, which of late appears to be in the midst of an uptick. In allowing just one earned run on four hits and two walks over seven innings against the Brewers (16-21), Norris (4-1) improved to 3-0 in May. He has surrendered just one earned run over 21 innings this month, posting a 0.43 ERA and 0.76 WHIP while fanning one batter per inning. This stretch of brilliance compares to the three starts Norris strung together last June when he allowed two earned runs on eight hits and eight walks with 17 strikeouts over 21 innings. But he's been better. What should not be lost is the fact that the Astros (16-21) are 7-1 in his eight starts this season. Even when he didn't pitch efficiently enough to win, he was effective enough to put his team in position to do so. Some of that is maturity while the handiwork of catchers Jason Castro and Chris Snyder played a role. Most of the credit goes to Norris' diligence. "He came in saying that he wanted to have a different year this year," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "The way he's gone about his business, about how he's pitched, has been along those lines. And there's no reason to think that that's going to change. "You really have to give the credit to Bud. He made some adjustments, worked on stuff. He made a concerted effort because he said he wanted to go deeper into games." Mills praised Norris' variation on his slider, which on occasion mimicked a curveball in plane break. Norris displayed impeccable command of his fastball, both the four-seam and two-seam variety. He utilized his changeup less than a dozen times, but it too was effective. The manipulation of that repertoire appears to be the final domain for Norris to master. He status as a workhorse is unquestioned, and in the past Norris has thrived solely with his fastball-slider combination. The subtle adjustments to his stuff have only enhanced his raw ability. "You're always tweaking. You're always trying to learn some new stuff," Norris said. "Luckily enough I've always had that slider, but getting better with the two-seamer and getting better with the changeup is really going to help my career in the long run. "My go-to stuff is my strength so I'm always going to stick to my strengths. But working on the little things is really important." There is an end game in play. With veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (3-3, 1.99 ERA, .205 BAA, 0.99 WHIP) pitching magnificently and the Astros in the throes of rebuilding, it seems only a matter of time before the club deals Rodriguez to a postseason hopeful seeking his services. That move would create a void at the front of the Astros rotation, and one particular right-hander is suited to fill that vacancy. That, of course, is a big-picture contemplation. In the interim, Norris will keep working to improve, aiming to let the results speak for themselves. "Someday if that's the job they want me to (have) I'll be excited to take that job," Norris said. "Wandy is the anchor now and we know that. I'm just trying to feed off him and that's what we're all trying to do. Wandy has been great this year; it's been fun watching him and I'm just trying to keep up with him and help this team out as much as I can." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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